Last November, during another exchange between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza, the left-wing columnist Owen Jones appeared on BBC Question Time. Invited to comment on recent events, what he read out (or so it appears from the tape) was a catalogue of errors about Israel. Among them were big, sweeping incorrect allegations – such as the claim that Israel is enforcing ‘a siege which stops basic supplies’ getting into Gaza.
But there were also some new and more specific errors. Take his striking and emotive claim that Israel’s ‘onslaught’ included ‘targeted strikes’ which killed children. Here is one of the things he said:
‘I don’t want to just throw statistics around – I’ll give you one example of one of those children. Omar Misheri [sic]. He’s 11-months old, he’s a little boy, the son of a BBC journalist and he was killed in a so-called “targeted strike”.’
The case which Owen Jones was reading out and built his case upon would appear to be the tragic case of Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi. His father, Jihad Mishrawi, a BBC Arabic journalist also lost his sister-in-law in these terrible events.
Of course during any military exchange there will always be fatalities. And even the most democratic and accountable armies will make mistakes. When terrorist groups seeking to maximise human casualties are involved there is a particular need to be wary of all claims. Journalists, as disseminators of information, have a particular duty to be careful at such times. It should go without saying that they must be especially careful about claims that might encourage hatred of one side or other on the basis of claims that do not appear to be supported by evidence. It is not known what evidence, if any, Owen Jones had that the Israelis had killed this 11-month old boy. It may be he had simply found what he thought to be a useful tool with which to hit at Israel.
Unfortunately for Owen Jones, the UN has subsequently looked into the Mishrawi tragedy and its findings have just been published. It is now clear that the Mishhrawis were not killed by an Israeli ‘targeted strike’, but by ‘a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel’. The Mishrawis were killed by a Hamas rocket, fired by Hamas Palestinians at Israelis, not by a ‘targeted strike’ carried out by Israel.
Here is the relevant paragraph. The source footnote is the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, Navi Pillay:
‘On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in al-Zaytoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel’.
It was plain at the time that Owen Jones didn’t know what he was talking about. Now the UN has proved it. I wonder if an apology will be following?
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